Category Archives: Recession

The end of consumerism? Part 2 – Frugality ends when living life laid off does. Pity

by Mariam Williams

“You see, when this recession began, many families sat around their kitchen table and tried to figure out where they could cut back. So do many businesses. That is a completely responsible and understandable reaction. But if every family in America cuts back, then no one is spending any money, which means there are more layoffs, and the economy gets even worse.” – President Obama, Speech on the economy at Georgetown University, April 14, 2009, about 10 minutes in.

Is frugality bad for the economy?

That’s the question author Amy Dacyzyn poses on page 61 of The Tightwad Gazette II. Here’s what’s crazy: The book was published in 1995 and references a 1992 book by Ross Perot entitled, United We Stand, for further reading on how rethinking spending can lead to a more stable economy.

The question remains relevant because we keep getting ourselves into recessions, and counting on spending to get ourselves out and to sustain our economy.  I attended a business webinar today in which speaker economic futurist Jeff Thredgold stressed that the tide has begun to turn in the economy.  He and other experts are now predicting that we will move out of the current recession, which officially began in December 2007, before the end of 2009.  Although this recession has lasted longer than those of 1980 and the early 1990s and unemployment may still increase to over 10%, the severity has begun to level off.  The stock market shows signs that consumer confidence is starting to build again, and that’s critical to our economy; seventy percent of our national income is determined by consumer spending.

Here’s the thing that’s really hitting us with a national unemployment rate of 8.5 percent: not all of that spending is from hard-earned money.  In 2008, 65% of our spending was dictated by wages and salaries, down from 80% from 1980 to 2007.  That means we rely on credit for 35% of our spending.  Those whose credit cards remain open during unemployment-because if a bank suspects you won’t be able to make your payments, they can cut you off at any time, or raise your interest rates, for any reason really, without notice-will likely continue to use them, but not on the vacations, appliances, clothing, and entertainment they did before.

If it lasts long enough, the forced frugality of the current recession could change American society as a whole from greedy, credit-burdened consumerists who work to get more stuff they can’t enjoy because they’re working too much to pay off the debt they borrowed to get the stuff, to a society that values the bare necessities, the earth, and interpersonal experiences.  As Marian Salzman, the chief marketing officer of Porter Novelli, a public-relations company, said in a story published last month in U.S. News & World Report, “[T]here is an anti-bling thing going on.”

I heard much of the same on the radio show State of Affairs last month.  People have shifted their dollars to maintenance, “do it yourself” projects, anything that will help them save money at a time when they fear they might not have a job forever, or when they know that a home equity loan is impossible on an upside down house.  The savings rate has gone from -1% to 5%.  People are tracking their spending, learning how to prioritize, and learning how to define what’s really important.  We’re learning lessons that can bring down a capitalist economy.

Greed has employed me.  I don’t understand why auto makers roll out a new version of every model of every make every year, or why most drivers get bored with their car after three years and feel the need to swap one vehicle they don’t own yet for another one they never will, but I made more money per month selling cars than I have per month at any other job.  I hated wrapping overpriced presents for ungrateful, rich snobs in Seven jeans and Juicy Couture jogging suits who routinely spent over $1000 a week in a southern California Bloomingdale’s and who threw tantrums over restrictions on the 20 percent savings cards that cost them a $5 charitable donation once a year, but without their obsession over obtaining the latest styles before everyone else and at regular price, I would not have been able to eat as I nurtured my showbiz habit.  I can’t tell you how many commercials I wrote as a radio copywriter advertising clothing sales, furniture with easy financing and guaranteed credit approval, or specials on custom wheels, sound systems, and rims.  Those same marketers’ holding back their ad dollars led to my current state and is presently sending newspapers and other publications into bankruptcy.  One of the comments in the pile Oprah’s website collected after Suze Orman’s last financial show was from an irate spa owner, appalled at Orman’s advice to cut your spending to the “bare bones,” or as the commenter saw it, put small business owners out of business.

Our country is at a crossroads right now.  The greed that unregulated free enterprise bred has screwed us, but a radically new system is still too hard for people not yet suffering to imagine.  I’m not even sure that the government should take charge of or be heavily involved in the overseeing of corporations, and I don’t know why I’m not sure.  Perhaps because I know and admire several smart, honest women who own their own businesses and feel like they deserve to revel in their success.  Perhaps because I know that money is a motivator and that it’s employed me.  Perhaps because I like paying low prices more than I care about the exploitation of workers.  (Of course, if I were earning enough money to only support local small businesses, I would.)  Perhaps because I think our government officials are just as fallible as everyone else, and if they don’t mess up a new system with their own disagreements or errors in judgment, a person with greater ingenuity will buy them out.

The Obama Administration could be on the right track anyway.  Keynesian economic theory suggests that we spent our way out of the Great Depression with federal stimulus packages that increased disposable income.  History also shows us that we tend to revert back to our old ways once the tough times are over.  Most of us were spending beyond our means, but at least we had some means, and once those means are restored to their previous levels-and for many industries, or people willing to learn new skills, they will be (even before the end of the year!)-most us will revert back to credit and debt.  Of course, massive debt isn’t entirely the consumer’s fault; when credit card companies and banks can change your interest rates on a whim, manageable debt becomes unbearable.  If corporate greed is somewhat regulated when the hard times are over this time, we might have even more confidence in our plastic cards.

Amy Dacyzyn believes that if we as a society were able to save more money, we would be a better society in three ways: 1) we would have more venture capital to start businesses; 2) we would have less federal debt and lower taxes because we wouldn’t be paying off our own bad decisions; and 3) we would be able to focus on real causes of economic problems, like the outsourcing of manufacturing jobs to foreign countries.

I’m hoping that the story from U.S. News & World Report is true and that our frugality may actually become so ingrained that we question every purchase and use more cash. I’m concerned about just how our economy will restructure itself if we’re not dependent on the sale and marketing of unnecessary stuff, but if the trend continues, or if we fall quickly into another recession after this one is over, we’ll have to find a new way.  And I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

What are YOUR plans for your money after you bounce back?

See a transcript of the president’s speech from last week here.

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© Mariam Williams, aka The Pink-Slipped Girl, and The Pink Slip Blog – Living Life Laid Off, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Mariam Williams and The Pink Slip Blog – Living Life Laid Off or http://livinglifelaidoff.com, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  Any use and/or duplication of any photo contained within this blog without express and written permission from Mariam Williams is strictly prohibited.

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Filed under Economy, Lifestyles, money, Recession, stimulus bill, Unemployment

The end of consumerism? Part I – Living Life Laid Off Produces Tightwads

by Mariam Williams

The last full week of March, after waiting for it for three months, the library alerted me that the copy I had requested of The Tightwad Gazette was finally available.  A friend on Facebook hipped me to it after my first post.  I can’t use every money-saving tidbit in the book; it was published in the nineties and has some dated information, like how to save on ink for dot matrix printers.  Some of the other tips-like figuring out just how much prepackaged cereal costs verses muffins, pancakes, and other carbs made from scratch-requires too many meticulous calculations, even for someone with plenty of time on her hands.  But I’ve learned how to turn the last little stub of lipstick in a tube into lip gloss and how to make yard sale clothes look like new, so the book isn’t half bad.  (There’s even an article addressing whether or not frugality is bad for the economy, the same debate going through my head so forcefully it requires several posts in parts.)

Author Amy Dacyczyn admits in her introduction that her ideas take “discipline and a willingness to do things that mainstream thinkers deem too extreme.”  Living like a tightwad may have been too extreme for the nineties, but now that living life laid off or on the brink of it is closer to mainstream than the good life is, the book’s subtitle – Promoting Thrift as a Viable Alternative Lifestyle-looks a little more reasonable.  And the fact that I had to wait so long to get the book tells me that I’m not the only one embracing its concept.

I’m just curious-in what ways are you becoming a tightwad?  Leave a comment below.

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© Mariam Williams, aka The Pink-Slipped Girl, and The Pink Slip Blog – Living Life Laid Off, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Mariam Williams and The Pink Slip Blog – Living Life Laid Off or http://livinglifelaidoff.com, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  Any use and/or duplication of any photo contained within this blog without express and written permission from Mariam Williams is strictly prohibited.

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Filed under Economy, Lifestyles, money, Recession, Unemployment

Realistic faith while living life laid off

by Mariam Williams

“My faith is the only real thing I have now, but faith doesn’t put bread on the table.”

The pastor of an Episcopalian parish said that Thursday on Oprah.  He and his wife lost their life savings in the stock market, and at 65 years old, they’re not sure if their resources will outlast their lives.

The more righteous among us might ask, “What kind of faith is that?”  I think it’s a realistic one, and it’s a perspective I share.  I thought about my level of faith, or maybe the reality of God’s provision, just hours before seeing the show, as I prayed for forgiveness for taking God’s provision for granted, realizing that I go through many days without even a quick blessing over my food, much less a genuine prayer of thanks for shelter, safety, health, transportation, or even the portion of the stimulus money I guiltily spent on new workout clothes at Target last week.  (While I haven’t quite felt guilty enough to return them-they do fit better than the pants that have gotten so loose no amount of drawstring tightening will keep my underwear from exposure-I’ve been too ashamed to leak my purchase to the blogosphere until now.)

As I made my petition Thursday morning, I felt an entitlement farmer plant a seed in my brain.  “What am I asking forgiveness for?” I thought.  “He’s God, and I’m his child.  He has to provide …”  But before the thought was complete, I recognized its fallacy, and that moment of clarity wasn’t just the Holy Spirit convicting me for the attitude of entitlement that had momentarily replaced my appreciation of grace.

I have a bookmark-a physical one that you use to mark your place in physical books-that directs me to certain scriptures for certain situations.  I guess it’s a biblical GPS for life and emotional breakdowns.  When worried, the bookmark says I should read Matthew 6:19-34.  Loosely summarized, verses 19 through 24 warn that focusing on temporary, material things leads to spiritual blindness, as it’s impossible to devote yourself to both God and money.  In verses 20 through 34, Jesus says not to worry about your life and body when it comes to food and clothes; there’s more to your life and your body than that.  Besides, he continues, God feeds the birds, and flowers are clothed more royally than King Solomon, the wisest, richest king of his time.  Come on, now.  Don’t you think God cares more about you than some flowers?

That scripture would have watered my entitlement seed if Matthew 25:31-46 hadn’t dug it back up.  In this scripture, Jesus talks about the day of final judgment.  He’ll separate the sheep from the goats, congratulating the sheep for feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, looking after the sick, and doing other charitable acts, and condemning the goats for not doing any of it.

What does all this have to do with living life laid off?  Simply this: one scripture says don’t worry about food and clothes while the other rewards the people who feed the hungry and clothe the naked.  This means that there will be people-during this recession and forever-who will not be fed like the birds or clothed like the lilies, and I’m absolutely sure that some of those people believe in God just as much as I do.  They may even be the shepherds of a church or parish.

I’m somewhat concerned about the people who will run to houses of worship in the midst of this economic crisis with sincere belief in a genie-god who will make a high-paying job or an unusually sympathetic banker appear.  I’ve been a Christian for nearly 17 years, and although I do believe that God is able to do “immeasurably more than [I] can ask or imagine” and that everything eventually works out for the best, I don’t believe he will always spare me from the worst.  This realistic faith is why I quickly reverted back to my original request: forgiveness for taking God’s provision for granted.  It’s also why I added a request for help to focus on what’s necessary and for a new perspective on wealth and on what’s important in life.

Suze Orman and I were on the same train of thought today.  Later in the show, the pastor on Oprah explained that his “faith in his creator and provider hasn’t wavered a bit,” but the system, the government working for him and people like him?  His faith in that is crushed.  Suze Orman followed his comment by begging the audience-I mean literally getting down on her knees on the Oprah show-to focus on what they have and forget about whatever jobs, riches, homes, or savings they lost.  She said that we’re not judged by how much money we make, a point I will likely debate in a later post, but “by who we are in the face of adversity.”

But just to warn you, we may not be spared from the worst.  At the end of the show, Suze Orman, who was right when she said years ago that we would soon be in this mess, predicted that it will be 2015 before everyone affected by the recession retrieves what was lost and each person’s hope is completely restored.  That means there’s an end in sight and plenty of time to reevaluate our priorities as 12.5 million of us continue living life laid off.

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See a summary of Suze Orman’s financial advice for the unemployed and everyone else here.

http://www.oprah.com/dated/oprahshow/oprahshow-20090311-suze-orman

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© Mariam Williams, aka The Pink-Slipped Girl, and The Pink Slip Blog – Living Life Laid Off, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Mariam Williams and The Pink Slip Blog – Living Life Laid Off or http://livinglifelaidoff.com, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  Any use and/or duplication of any photo contained within this blog without express and written permission from Mariam Williams is strictly prohibited.

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Filed under Economy, faith, Lifestyles, Mental & Emotional Health, Recession, Unemployment

Before you make higher education your sanctuary from living life laid off, consider this

by Mariam Williams

It’s the secret all those colleges and universities who flood job expos will never tell you: The well-educated are among those living life laid off, and they might be doing it longer than those with less education.

I had to address this after hearing Wednesday’s Talk of the Nation.  Gustavo Arellano elaborated on his recent op-ed for the LA Times in which he stated that his parents’ generation of Mexican immigrants who “came to this country with nothing” and remained in the unskilled labor force all their lives is, “in many ways better positioned to weather this recession than the sons and daughters they encouraged to educate themselves and aspire to better lives.”

I heard a similar opinion four days before hearing this one.  The first opinion came from Pietra Rivoli, an economics professor at Georgetown University.  She was on NPR’s This American Life addressing economic and business correspondent Adam Gibson’s concern about DJ, his 25-year-old cousin who decided to drop out of college.  Angered over his cousin’s decision, Gibson said, “There is one thing I have learned with absolute certainty, and that’s that the competitive advantage of the United States and our citizens, the way we will succeed in this global economy going forward is through skills, education, knowledge.  In other words, stay in school, get a college degree and you’ll be in a much better position … in the global economy.  And if you drop out of college, then you have basically consciously decided not to participate in the economic growth and possibilities in the coming decades.”

Gibson expected Rivoli to agree with him.  She didn’t.

She described the jobs in DJ’s work history as “non-tradable.”  Unlike the positions of people who went straight from high school to factories, then were laid off after 20+ years on the job when their work was shipped to China or Mexico, DJ’s jobs – laying telecom lines, carpentry, truck driving, etc. – aren’t going anywhere.  DJ was primed for a life of body aches, but for a good life nonetheless.  The segment concluded with the experts noting that the educated classes are more stressed about the recession and about their lives in general.

I was as surprised as Gibson when I heard Rivoli say this, but hearing it again has left me feeling taken aback, in disbelief, disturbed, concerned, and maybe even a little alarmed.  Actually, the best word might be unhinged.  Although I noticed years ago that a college degree didn’t guarantee success, riches, or even a job, I’ve always thought it better than the alternative.  A college degree would shield me from having to be a domestic, work in a fast food restaurant the rest of my life, drive a bus, work temp jobs, and whatever else women whose highest education level is a high school diploma do.

A degree goes beyond the concrete circumstances I wanted to avoid.  To roam the halls of academia and imbibe the wisdom of some of the great scholars and thinkers of our time; to dialogue with and live among students from different cultures and countries, to etch your way into adulthood away from the comforts of home and to be entrusted to establish your independence are privileges not extended to the majority of the world.  And as a descendant of people who were whipped or whose eyes were gouged or burned out for learning to read; a member of the gender still denied education in many parts of the world; and a self-described nerd, to stop my education at high school never occurred to me.

It also never occurred to me that I – or my country – might one day be unable to use my education.

The 44th President of the United States is a Harvard Law School graduate.  Those of us baffled by the two elections of a blubbering imbecile and the vice presidential candidacy of another have delighted in the return of oratory excellence and critical thought to the nation’s highest office.  President Obama fought throughout his campaign to appeal to the “Average Joes” and “Joe Six-packs” of the heartland.  And yet, the people who should be most excited about the immediate effects that his stimulus plan will have in their respective states are highly specialized engineers, construction workers, or ditch diggers.  That’s DJ’s current job.

As I’ve said before, I have accepted that it could be a while before people like me come back into demand.  I also know that there’s a positive correlation between adult enrollment in higher education courses and unemployment, and when my state made the top 15 in unemployment numbers, graduate study began to look more attractive.  But to hear Arellano admit that he has a master’s degree but can’t afford a house and knows that his journalism prospects will continue to remain in jeopardy, it hurts.

It hurts because I want to be an advocate for higher education.  I’ve been helping with a college fair for the past several weeks that focuses on getting more minority students to graduate from high school and enroll in college by showing them that success is possible for them and equipping them with the tools they need to succeed.  Now, I don’t believe college is for everyone.  I’m thankful for the DJs of the world; they do respectable, honest work that’s possibly more essential than anything I’m capable of, and I know they can make a good living doing it.  I also know that Bill Gates’s degree is honorary.  I know Steve Jobs dropped out of college.  I know that in Rich Dad Poor Dad, Robert Kiyosaki advises people who want to be rich to learn a little about a lot and not get more and more specialized in higher education.  He saw his very well-educated father teach for pennies and eventually have to leave his home because he couldn’t afford the property taxes.  I know that some people who want to play basketball or sing or dance or rap or act or write or direct professionally actually get to do it without giving college much thought, and that a few of them can make about a tenth of what Bernie Madoff stole.  But I feel that to advise minority students to go after that instead of higher education is to raise a collective middle finger to history and stain our own hands with our ancestors’ blood, even in this economy.  Yet these conversations have me wondering, what is the goal of college?  To get a job?  If so, am I helping to lead these students down the right path?  Are they better off without the “privilege” of a good education?

DJ and Arellano’s parents have an advantage because they aren’t “unskilled”; they’re adaptable.  They’re good at working with their hands, they learn how to do the work quickly, and they’re not too spoiled to do it.

It wasn’t having classes outside on the perfectly manicured quad, the imported tulips that lined the sidewalks every spring, the Starbucks coffee in every eatery, or even Angie, the kind housekeeper who mopped and vacuumed the floors in my suite twice a week my sophomore year, that spoiled me.  It was the diligence I put into studying, the faithfulness in anticipation of a reward that did it.  To not only not receive the reward, but to also still be paying off the loan I took out to do the hard work to gain the reward as I face the fact that I might have to – again – do something that has nothing to do with the hard work, is a cruel joke.

I’m trying to be humble and flexible, but I have some quirks that make some of the most obvious options unrealistic.  I vowed several years ago that I would never go back to retail, not clothes, not cars, not furniture.  I can work with teenagers in certain settings, but Starbucks isn’t one of them.  Teaching or tutoring children of other ages-or trying to-convinced me not to do it again.  I was great at math and science ten years ago, but I just don’t like them that much, and I don’t remember enough of those crucial subjects to become an engineer who can come up with green energy solutions.  My germaphobic tendencies, lack of natural caregiver instincts, and disdain for blood and human smells nix nursing.  I guess I could go for non-retail sales, but what exactly are people buying right now?  And even though manual labor jobs aren’t traditionally filled by women anyway, I’m just not cut out for them.

So what happens when business owners who have more letters after their name than I do lose their shirts and can’t even draw unemployment because they were business owners?  What do I do if my own hard work turns out to be useless for finding a job, and so for all present intents and purposes, meaningless?  At that point, I will rationalize my disappointment by remembering the words of another writer who discovered that everything really is meaningless, and I focus on all the important parts of life outside of whatever job consumes most of my days.  Until then, I’ll keep doing what I have been: praying for guidance, exploring options, applying for jobs I want, networking, and reinventing myself while honing in on the gifts and talents that are blossoming.  I also give myself one good “that’s not fair” tantrum and then remember that while some are better equipped than others to weather the economic storm, all storms eventually pass.

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Some links and things to make you think:

www.celiaanderson.com

http://adage.com/gennext/post?article_id=135211

http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?book_id=25&chapter=12&version=31

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© Mariam Williams, aka The Pink-Slipped Girl, and The Pink Slip Blog – Living Life Laid Off, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Mariam Williams and The Pink Slip Blog – Living Life Laid Off or http://livinglifelaidoff.com, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  Any use and/or duplication of any photo contained within this blog without express and written permission from Mariam Williams is strictly prohibited.

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Filed under education, Layoffs, Recession, stimulus bill, Unemployment

In a state of unhappiness

by Mariam Williams

At least now I have an excuse for the funk I’ve been in lately.

My whole state is unhappy!  Kentucky ranked 49th on the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index TM, which measures the overall health – the physical, mental, and social well-being – of each state and each Congressional district within each state.

When I took a closer look at the map provided on ahiphiwire.org, I saw that Kentucky’s 5th district is ranked last of all the districts in overall well-being, while the district I live in is ranked somewhere in between the lowest 20% and the middle 20% of all districts within the United States.  Quite frankly, that still sucks.

Because I’m a trained researcher and a nerd, the whole study fascinates me, but for the purpose of this blog, I want to highlight one quote in the AP story on the findings:

“‘It’s not just about physical health,’ said Eric Nielsen, a spokesman for Gallup. ‘It’s about their ability to contribute at work and be more productive, and it’s about feeling engaged in a community and wanting to improve that community.'”

In this economy, I have to argue that it’s also about a person’s ability to find work.  I said it in a previous post: a certain amount of pride and dignity comes with having a job.  If the job pays enough, you can take care of all your needs.  If it doesn’t, and you have to work several jobs to provide for yourself, at least you can say you’re a productive member of society.

My current job is to find full-time work.  When my employment hiatus began in October, I remarked that I had forgotten that finding a full-time job is a full-time job.  I think the dead ends – the lack of responses, the generic “we found someone else who better fits our qualifications” letters, the daily reminders from the news and from strangers’ comments of just how difficult it is to find a job right now – have contributed to a slowdown in my productivity.  I haven’t reached the point where I see a job I’m interested in but think to myself, “Why bother?  I won’t get it anyway,” or, “Why even look?  There’s nothing out there.”  But I am to the point where I might wait several days before applying for one of the good full-time positions I’ve been holding out for.  (And the job market is to the point where I don’t see those jobs very often at all.)  There are days when email, Facebook, whatever random, useless information I can find online, the dishes, the laundry, a little spot on the floor, a good workout, or even this blog seem more important than sending in an application.

On Tuesday’s Tom Joyner Morning Show, commentator Jeff Johnson talked about the “depression created from the recession … A level of depression that comes when working class people – who don’t mind working to pay the bills … can’t find work.”  To get out of the depression, Johnson recommended, first and foremost, thinking positive.  He also recommended trying something you’ve never done before, learning a new profession, going back to school for something completely different, or in his words, “taking a risk.”

I don’t find many job postings I’m excited about anymore because I know that what I really want to do isn’t listed.  I want to pursue – and perhaps am called to pursue – a profession that forces me to open myself up to rejection, to not depend on an employer for health care and retirement benefits, to not depend on cubicle mates for companionship, to not always be on someone else’s clock, but rather to have the kind of freedom that also takes great responsibility.  To pursue this career takes great risk, and I believe the fear of failure, or maybe of all the responsibility and pressure that success would bring, is manifesting itself in distractions and lethargy.  Lately it takes more effort for me to put a coherent sentence together than it does to clean the house.  And I HATE cleaning.

Hmm.  I guess I don’t have an excuse for the funk I’ve been in lately.  The funk is the excuse, and I have to get out of it if I want to stop living life laid off.

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Filed under Economy, Health, Layoffs, Mental & Emotional Health, Recession, Unemployment

Where did the silver lining to living life laid off go?

by Mariam Williams

Girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes
Snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes
Silver white winters that melt into springs
These are a few of my favorite things

This is my favorite verse from “My Favorite Things,” the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic that helps to seal Maria’s bond with the captain’s children in The Sound of Music.  Girls and snowflakes don’t do much for me; I don’t like children (although I could see how a white dress with a blue satin sash could make a girl happy), and I hate snow.  The “silver white winters that melt into springs” make this verse my favorite.  The winters are melting, meaning there’s a process, and it could take all season, but there’s something happening, and the bitter cold will turn into a season I enjoy.

When the dog bites

Between the headache that made me feel as though a power tool was drilling through the back of my head and into my eyes, and all the depressing economic news I read this weekend, it’s becoming more difficult to remember that a new season is coming.   The front page of Sunday’s Couier-Journal pictured a sheriff’s deputy and members of his eviction crew emptying the contents of a home.  The story encouraged readers with news of an increase in evictions – from two a month to two a day – a struggling charity that serves the homeless debating whether or not to close on weekends; an appraiser willing to travel up to 150 miles to appraise homes for bankruptcy instead of for refinancing; a man forced to seek help from a food bank for the first time; and a couple of the kinds of lesser-known stories that make newspapers so great, like one about a couple living in their barn due to the delay in the building of their houseboat and one about plastic surgeons seeing a decline in elective surgeries.  That last one is a pretty big deal for one of America’s vainest cities.

When the bee stings

When I turned to the features section of the C-J, I read about an Atlanta man who had moved to Louisville for work; got laid off from each job he found here; couldn’t draw unemployment because he hadn’t worked long enough; and is currently three months behind on his rent and passing out hand-made business cards to seek out construction work.

When I’m feeling sad

Monday morning, I read an op-ed piece in the New York Times that noted that not only is this recession worse in shear numbers than the one that hit in 1981-82, but it’s worse for me, one of the 2.2 million people ages 16 to 29 who have lost their jobs in this recession.  And “this follows an already steep decline in employment opportunities for young workers over the past several years.”  Guess I should be more excited to have only one more year in my 20s.

Then I read in Ad Age that ad spending in traditional media will continue to decline into 2013.  So much for trying to stay in my field.

I simply remember my favorite things
And then I don’t feel so bad

A stockpile of soup and cereal purchased on sale and with coupons

Sleep

Rent paid consistently and on time

The fact that I still have more than I need and more than most of the world

My mom taking care of my gym membership

Benefits of exercise

A supportive boyfriend who truly believes that I have enough gifts to seriously change my life

The escapism of “24” and “Heroes”

hulu.com, which allows me to watch both of those shows, despite their competing time slots

Cathartic writing sessions

Random and interesting things my friends have posted on Facebook, like this video snagged from youtube:

My CeCe Winans cd (yes, a cd!)

The song “Praise Is What I Do” by Shekinah Glory Ministry

Ecclesiastes 3:1.  The translation I currently like best reads, “There is an appointed time for everything.”

Silver white winters that melt into springs …

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Go ahead: make a comment.  What are few of your favorite things, or anything that’s making you not feel so bad?

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© Mariam Williams, aka The Pink-Slipped Girl, and The Pink Slip Blog – Living Life Laid Off, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Mariam Williams and The Pink Slip Blog – Living Life Laid Off or http://livinglifelaidoff.com, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Any use and/or duplication of any photo contained within this blog without express and written permission from Mariam Williams is strictly prohibited.

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Filed under Economy, Layoffs, Mental & Emotional Health, Recession, Unemployment

From Living Life Laid Off to Working Artist?

by Mariam Williams

I recently learned that a friend of a friend has joined the self-reinvention effort in the face of the national economic freefall. She’s decided to go back to school to study fashion design. With her engineering career taking a hard hit, the friend of a friend figures that if she’s going to have to go back to school and reinvent herself, she might as well study something for which she has a passion.

I understand her logic, encourage her efforts, and even applaud her zeal, but something concerns me about all of us who have decided to use our country’s present catastrophe as an opportunity to pursue our artistic passions: where will we find jobs in our new respective fields?

As a life-long artist, I’ve confronted this conundrum many times, and it has undoubtedly contributed to why I’m not further along as a dancer, writer, painter, playwright, screenwriter, or actress. (Yes, I’ve dreamed about, thrown money at, and at some point received formal instruction in all of those areas.) I want to follow my passion(s), but I want to get paid for it (them) too. I believe I should do what I’ve been designed to do and use the gifts I’ve been blessed with, but I also want to satiate, or at least periodically feed, that side of my personality that craves the material things that only about 1% or so of those whose only full-time job is to do what I like to do, can afford to buy. I would rather get paid to do what I love than to, as another friend and artist put it, “work full-time to support my theater habit.”

“Making it” as an artist is difficult in large part because art is subjective, and not just in terms of whether it is good or bad, pretty or ugly, or liked or disliked. What constitutes an artist as one who has “made it”? Fame? Money? Mainstream acceptance? Staying true to your art even though it will cost you more than you make for the rest of your life and only your close inner circle knows your name?

Art is even subjective in terms of whether or not it’s a necessity, especially in a society whose economy is eroding. When President Obama was still the President Elect, my mother sent me an online petition to support the formation of a new cabinet post: Secretary of the Arts. Legendary music mogul Quincy Jones, quoted as saying he plans to “beg” President Obama to establish the post, is among major supporters who also include the U.S. Conference of Mayors, a former chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities, and arts advocacy group Americans for the Arts. Over 200,000 people have signed the petition so far.

NPR’s story on the possibility of the cabinet position also included the dissenting voice of David Smith, a professor of American history and the author of Money for Art: The Tangled Web of Art and Politics in American Democracy. His concern, and that of at least one blogger, is that art and government beget censorship and jeopardize artistic freedom. Many who commented on the NPR story had another concern: the cabinet position would be a waste of taxpayers’ money because we just don’t need it.

The latter concern is one reason the major supporters would argue the opposite. From what I gather (see links at the end), their focus seems to be three-fold:

  1. Increase cohesiveness. The Secretary of the Arts or Department of Culture would connect the State Department, Department of Education, National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), National Endowment for the Humanities, the Library of Congress, and the Institute of Museums and Library Services.
  2. Increase the U.S.’s visibility on the world arts stage.
  3. Educate the U.S. masses about the value of art and artists in American society.

The focus is on arts organizations and the public, but the educational aspect may be paramount to individual artists. Supporters of a senior-level culture official are looking for someone to tell the public that “nonprofit arts organizations and their audiences generate $166.2 billion in economic activity every year; support 5.7 million jobs; and return nearly $30 billion in local, state, and federal government revenue every year” (Americans for the Arts). They want the public to know that the U.S. had arts ambassadors during the Cold War, and to see, as Quincy Jones does, that “the arts have a spiritual benefit that Americans need,” and that our “emotional defense is just as important” as our military defense.

I want someone who can do number three AND create jobs for artists. If you’re not an artist, you may not know this, but art, in all its forms, is a fiercely competitive field. A 2008 report from the NEA found that about 2 million Americans identify themselves as working artists. The total number of active duty and reserve U.S. military personnel at the time of the NEA’s report was 2.2 million. Because I know that our “emotional defense” will never be seen as important as our military defense, I won’t address the difference in federal funding between the two groups.

I will, however, address federal funding of the arts in the recently-signed stimulus bill, AKA the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Here’s the good news for arts organizations, according to a press release from Americans for the Arts: “The National Endowment for the Arts will distribute $50 million of the stimulus funds to arts projects in all 50 states which specifically preserve jobs in the nonprofit arts sector that have been most hurt by the economic downturn. … Additionally … the final version removes the Senate ban on state and local governments from using any of the recovery funds to benefit museums, theaters, and art centers.”

Here’s the bad news: I didn’t see anything about art or artists on Congressman John Yarmuth’s (D-KY, 3rd District) link showing highlights of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for Louisville and the state of Kentucky. (I guess that since Louisville’s Fund for the Arts exceeded its 2008 campaign goals by 13.8%, we’re doing okay without federal money. On the other hand, 26,000 of the Fund’s donors gave from their workplace, and unemployment is up to almost 8% now.) Also, typing “art” in the search box on recovery.gov yielded no results. Neither did “national endowment arts,” which means that if any money for the arts is in there, it’s not highlighted among the details most people want to know, and if it’s not highlighted, it’s not that important to American society right now.*

That’s unfortunate because the NEA’s study also found that there are about 300,000 part time or seasonal artists in the U.S., and they didn’t count adults who love their art, but very rarely get paid for it. Artists who don’t work full-time as artists compete for many of the same federal, state, and local grants as full-time artists do. That money – plus the public’s disposable income and wealthy art lovers’ charitable contributions – is how the Louisville Metro Area supports over 30 community theaters while the producers, directors, performers, and crew members go to work at their “real” jobs each day. A grant from the Kentucky Foundation for Women is how I paid my own artist fees to adapt a screenplay into a stage play while I worked two part-time jobs in 2007. And keep in mind that the jobs in the non-profit art sector and at museums, theaters, and art centers that will get funding could just as well be administrative staff positions as they could be artists. A well-known, well-endowed theater here in Louisville has 18 people on its artistic staff roster, 58 crew members, and 49 administrative staff members. That doesn’t count interns who do the work for college credit.

We live in a society in which art is undervalued. Even as I write with new fervor, launch a freelance writing service, and hope that the 65,000+ media and advertising jobs that have disappeared since the beginning of the recession return, I think about how so many new artists will support themselves, and I wonder if a Secretary of the Arts could save me from living life laid off.

Links:

http://yarmuth.house.gov/?sectionid=111&parentid=63&sectiontree=3,63,111&itemid=452

http://www.nbcwashington.com/news/entertainment/Does-Nation-Need-Secretary-of-the-Arts.html

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/storyComments.php?storyId=99450228

http://blogs.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-healing-arts/200901/secretary-the-arts-q-needs-you

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/01/13/AR2009011303264_2.html

http://www.florida-arts.org/resources/economicimpactofthearts.htm

http://www.artsusa.org/information_services/recovery/default.asp#stateofarts

http://www.artinfo.com/news/story/27828/study-finds-two-million-artists-in-the-us/

http://articles.latimes.com/2008/jun/12/entertainment/et-nea12

*To see provisions for the arts, go to http://frwebgate.access.gpo.gov/cgi-bin/getdoc.cgi?dbname=111_cong_bills&docid=f:h1enr.pdf and see pages 57-58 of the entire ARRA bill.

© Mariam Williams, aka The Pink-Slipped Girl, and The Pink Slip Blog – Living Life Laid Off, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Mariam Williams and The Pink Slip Blog – Living Life Laid Off or http://livinglifelaidoff.com, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Any use and/or duplication of any photo contained within this blog without express and written permission from Mariam Williams is strictly prohibited.

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Filed under Arts and Culture, Economy, Health, Layoffs, Lifestyles, Mental & Emotional Health, money, Recession, stimulus bill, Unemployment